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The exact details of Google’s search algorithms aren’t publicly known, making it somewhat difficult to know exactly what the search giant is looking for on quality websites.
Related: 5 SEO Mistakes That Are Costing Your Business Money
One of the most often misunderstood aspects of these quality rankings is the importance of white hat link building as part of a solid SEO strategy. The term refers to the desire to create a good product or service that people will want to link to (the “white hat” referral) and which, over time, can increase your search rankings.
The white hat confusion was sparked during a February 2015 Google Hangout with John Mueller, one of the search firm’s webmasters: Mueller warned against the practice of creating “unwanted links” , meaning companies were violating Google’s policies by buying links from websites or obtaining irrelevant sites to link to their own.
In November 2015, Google helped fix the problem by releasing a comprehensive 150-page guide explaining the company’s search quality rankings. The move was intended to allow webmasters to proactively build relevant sites that would avoid the penalties associated with frequent updates from Penguin and Panda (Google’s algorithms that track down violations such as duplicate or low-quality pages).
For anyone who hasn’t had the time to read Google’s copious manual and all the forums, blogs, and comments that flow from it, here are some tips on how to get quality inbound links that make your site go up. in search engine rankings.
1. Find out what your competitors are doing.
The first step in creating a link building strategy is to understand what works for others. No matter what you search for online, there are already tons of results. If you expect to compete with these existing sites, you need to play the same game as them.
One of my favorite tools for finding inbound links to any website is the Common Backlinks Tool (my blog lists several of my favorite backlink tools).
With the Common Backlinks tool, you can enter up to 10 websites to see what backlinks they all have in common. If everyone has an inbound link from a specific website, that website is likely a trusted and respected source for your industry.
You don’t want to be the only entrepreneur-focused website that doesn’t feature on big sites like Contractor (you know the others). This is a clue that you are not a reliable source on the subject.
Once you understand what the competition is doing, you can create a targeted link building strategy that will rank you among the leaders.
Related: No Money, No Problem: 17 Free Ways to Improve Your Website’s SEO
2. Establish business relationships.
Now that you know who to target, it’s time to build business relationships with these influential companies.
Journalists and other professionals hate spam and often ignore requests from people they don’t know. To get their attention, you will need to get involved in their communities.
On a site like Huffington Post, getting the attention of the blogging team is as easy as linking your Facebook account and leaving relevant comments on posts. HuffPo is a community-driven blogging site that values and encourages the contribution of its members. You can also contact its staff by finding their names and email addresses, either on individual articles or on the company banner.
Each company has contact information which can be found on the company’s website. Strike up a conversation with the company, introduce yourself, and provide valuable information and advice to their staff. This puts you and your business in front of the right people, who are more likely to notice when you post relevant content on your site, using you as the source.
HARO (Help a Reporter Out) is another great place to register as a source (and even as a blogger if applicable). By signing up for this service, you will receive targeted emails three times a day listing the stories that journalists looking for sources are currently looking for. If you provide relevant information, these writers will often provide a link to your site when they quote you for their stories.
3. Guest-post with relevant content.
Of course, if you want something done right, the best thing is to do it yourself. Guest posting directly on relevant sites is one of the best ways to cement your status as a subject matter expert. Unfortunately, for marketers (and luckily for readers), guest posting is such a common practice that publishers are becoming more choosy about what content they’ll accept and from whom.
In order to be a successful guest blogger, you need to fully understand the tone and voice of a post. Then you can create specific, actionable, and relevant content that matches the site guidelines.
To effectively use guest posting as a link building strategy, you’ll need in-content links, with varied anchor text that shows Google that your site is a relevant source for keywords one to five words related to the topic.
Think about how you watch a TV show versus an advertisement. Although an ad is an effective marketing tool, you want your content to be part of the show. Instead of selling directly, you demonstrate value that brings readers to you when they have problems you can solve.
4. Look for dead links.
There’s nothing more frustrating than clicking on a link to find more information, only to be presented with a 404 splash page (a “page not found” notification). However, as a savvy online marketer, the inability of others to keep links up to date gives you the opportunity to reclaim a valuable backlink to your website.
Whenever you come across a broken link while researching information about your industry, contact the publisher of the publication to report it and offer an alternative within your site.
If you can successfully explain to the publication why this backlink is hurting their web traffic and how your information can help their readers, you will not only get a backlink, but you will also build trust with the publication. It’s also a great opportunity to start a guest blog and even get an editorial column, because you’ve just proven your worth as a trusted source.
5. Use schema markup.
In 2013, Google began focusing on including infoboxes in search results using the Knowledge Graph to display semantic information relevant to searches. Instead of having to click through to a website, users could find common answers to common questions on the search page itself.
While it may seem like a wasted effort in link building, it’s actually an easy way to get your site noticed, as snippets of your site’s pages will show up right at the top of Google search results. You can’t pay for this kind of ranking, which takes precedence even over sponsored posts.
Site relevance is an important scoring factor for SERP (search engine results pages) rankings, and Google will obviously consider itself the most relevant site on the internet. The best part is that you don’t have to be the first search result to appear in the infobox.
To be part of the Knowledge Graph, you need to implement Schema markup on your website. Google defines this as “the code you place on your website to help search engines return more informative results to users.” Schema.org, sponsored by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Yandax, has everything you need to know to get started using schema markup.
6. Use social media.
As we move into the future, social media continues to grow in relevance in determining search results. Earning backlinks on social media shows search engines that you are creating content that people are actively sharing within their social groups.
I can’t stress enough the importance of including social media share buttons on every piece of content you create. It’s a call to action for every reader to share your information and help a post or page go viral.
When Google’s algorithms notice that a page is resonating on social media, that page is indexed and shown for search quality rankings to determine why. This is what pulls the URL from the unknown darkness of page 175648 from the search result to page 1.
SEO experts have been debating the effectiveness of link building as an online marketing tool since search engines have existed.
Although Mueller and other Google webmasters have warned against link building as an SEO strategy, experienced marketers know they warn against spammy black hat techniques.
Simply spamming the comment section of every website or creating fake sites to boost your inbound links will penalize your site.
Instead, focus on creating content relevant to real questions and issues people are having. Become a subject matter expert and deliver valuable, factual information backed by statistics to attract readers and prove your worth.
Related: Top 7 Things You Don’t Know About SEO
By building relationships with trusted sources, you can become a trusted online source yourself, increasing your brand’s visibility to readers and search engine crawlers.